Maryland volleyball’s Jonna Spohn needed only one hand to steady a low sizzling spike from Iowa’s Nataly Moravec.
Spohn’s crafty dig from the middle of the back row led to a Terps kill when Sydney Dowler out-muscled a Hawkeyes player on a joust at the net. Moments later, Erin Engel stepped to the service line and volleyed a knuckling serve that dropped in for an ace to give Maryland a two-set advantage.
Spohn’s stout defense and Engel’s deceptive serve encapsulated how the Terps manufactured consecutive set victories for the first time since Oct. 6. Maryland racked up 40 digs and eight aces throughout the first two frames of Saturday’s 3-1 win against Iowa, which snapped its previous four-game losing streak.
“Very, very scrappy across the board,” coach Adam Hughes said.
Unforced attack errors plagued Maryland throughout its midseason skid, but the Terps’ serving game prevented that inconsistency from appearing early Saturday. Spohn began the game with a line-drive ace that nicked the top of the net before it fluttered to the floor for the first of Maryland’s five aces in the opening set.
“It was great to set the tone for the team and just set the tone for the whole match,” Spohn said. “Having a good start is so important because volleyball is such a momentum game.”
For Hughes, the lucky roll was well-deserved after the Terps fell victim to five Wisconsin serves that clipped the net and dropped in for aces during Maryland’s 3-0 loss to the then-top-ranked Badgers earlier this month.
“It just means karma is getting us back,” he said. “I felt like we were just due for one.”
The Terps weren’t done. After both sides traded points, Lilly Gunter dug in behind the endline and baffled the Hawkeyes with a serve that Hughes called an “old-school knuckleball.” Gunter’s unpredictable offerings overwhelmed a scrambling and sprawling Iowa defense that surrendered three more aces in a four-point span as Maryland sprinted ahead 6-1.
“I was just trying to be consistent back there just so that I’m not contributing to unforced errors,” Gunter said.
However, the Terps’ five-point cushion quickly deflated as the Hawkeyes’ serve receive steadied itself and forced Maryland’s sputtering offense to carry the home squad. The Terps nullified their only two kills of the set to that point with three self-inflicted errors to help Iowa pull even at 12-12. But Maryland’s defense clamped down long enough for its attack to heat up.
The Terps held the Hawkeyes without a putaway throughout the game’s next 13 points, nine of which Maryland earned via kills. Hughes’ squad tallied 27 digs throughout the opening set en route to a 25-16 win.
Sam Csire continued the Terps’ avalanche of aces with her only one of the match early in the second set. Spohn spun another ace to punctuate a 5-1 run that propelled Maryland ahead 11-7, a lead it protected by way of 13 more digs in the frame to storm ahead 2-0.
The Terps tallied 60 digs Saturday, just the fourth time this season they’ve reached that mark.
Gunter led Maryland with 15, while Spohn and fellow freshman Alex McGillivray chipped 11 and seven, respectively, for a back row that has become one of the conference’s stingiest units. The Terps’ 14.37 digs per set throughout league play ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
“We all go after it,” Spohn said. “There’s no hesitation out there. We all trust each other to keep the ball off the floor.”
Maryland’s serving platoon orchestrated its finest outing behind the endline this season. Gunter, Spohn and Engel combined for nine of the Terps’ 11 aces, which tied the team’s season-high. Maryland’s two service errors were its fewest in a game this season. Spohn said the Terps’ mindset when serving was the same as it’s been throughout the season — she credited Maryland’s clean performance to the team’s heightened focus.
The Terps’ attack eventually found its groove and hit above .200 for the first time in seven matches. Maryland’s first-set offensive struggles against a team that’s winless in Big Ten play were concerning, but the Terps’ overwhelming serves and relentless pursuit warded off any early threat of an embarrassing defeat.